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Okay. I think Busy Month is over, yay. Of course, now I have to go back and do all the things I was supposed to be doing last month and was putting off, which by this time has stacked up to be, well, a lot of stuff. So, yes, I probably owe you a call or email or comment.

But instead of my actually doing any of that, here, have some nattering about books!

Eleanor and Park (Rowell)
3+/5. This was good. This was very good, and accurate as to what it was like to be an adolescent in love. (It is not at all the book's fault that it's sort of painful for me to think about (my) adolescent relationships, which this book very much reminded me of — not that my adolescent relationships were anything like this one, but the feel is right.) I was so afraid, as the book went on, that it wouldn't stick the landing — but it totally did.

Digger (Vernon)
4/5. This was awesome. It took me a while to get into it. I was in Chapter 3 (which, given that there are a total of 12 chapters, is fairly far into it) before I got utterly hooked. But yeah. [personal profile] nolly made me read these after I said I liked Gunnerkrigg Court, and although there's something about Gunnerkrigg Court that pings my unconditional love button, I do think Digger is better written and more tightly plotted.

(By the way, D read this long before I did, and kept pestering me to read it, which he never does.)

One of the really neat things about it is how most of the main powerful-knowledgeable-plot-important characters are casually female, in the same way that most main characters are casually male. The main character is a (female) wombat who grumbles about engineering a lot. Can I tell you how many main-character female engineers I have ever read about? *thinks* Zero, maybe? And the warrior hyenas. I kept thinking they were male and having to check my assumptions at the door. Very well done.

Interestingly, E has already internalized this: she found the book and kept calling Digger "he." *rolls eyes* So… good thing we have Digger to counteract that. (For some reason she finds the opening pages absolutely hilarious. "It is a digger." "We will eat it." "Yes." "Yes." sends her into paroxysms of delight. It may just be because she can read all those words, and she's not used to Mommy's books having things in it that she can actually read. But I think for some reason she also thinks eating it is some sort of joke.)

Zelda (Milford)
3+/5. Really interesting biography of Zelda Fitzgerald and, of necessity, F. Scott as well. I was always aware that they were in kind of a co-dependent dysfunctional relationship, but this book made it really clear. Also, it was rather hilarious to find out exactly how much of their lives made it into Scott's books. I mean, I knew it already about Tender is the Night, but I didn't know how much… and I confess I laughed when I found out Zelda dated a handsome Ivy-League football star of whom Scott was tremendously jealous. (Hi Gatsby and Tom!)
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If I Lie (Jackson) - 3+/5 - So this book surprised me over and over again -- it very much exceeded my expectations. On first glance, what with the title and all, and the fairly familiar tone of the first-person teen girl narrator, I figured it was your typical high school book. Then it turned out it was a high school book With a Secret. Then I figured out the secret, which didn't take that long. Then I thought I was going to be bored through the whole book as the author ham-handedly built up to the Big Secret Reveal. Then, a couple of pages later, the author... revealed the secret. Almost casually. Then I thought the book would be about how she was triumphantly vindicated. And then it wasn't. It's about how people are complicated. And then I thought it would be about Teen True Love. And it wasn't. It was about how people can love and hurt each other at the same time.

The one thing that Irks me about this book is how one character decides something is "wrong" or "messed up" with another character because he doesn't ask for sex even after they have dated for two whole years. IN HIGH SCHOOL. Um... I've dated three people for more than two years, two of them atheists, and none of them asked me for sex in the first two years. So there. I mean, yeah, I understand that you're maybe trying to deal with one set of messed-up expectations? But doing this by switching to another set of messed-up expectations, uh, no?

Ready Player One (Cline) - 3+/5 - Someone on my reading list said something along the lines of "This is basically an excuse for the author to talk about his obsessions from the 80's," and that's... just about right, in a way that's surprisingly entertaining, but that is probably more entertaining for those of us who lived through the 80's. The writing, even laying aside the nonsensical premise, is curiously full of flaws -- infodumps, telling-not-showing for large chunks of the action, random deus ex machinas showing up from time to time, somewhat cardboard characters, the usual cardboard dystopia-world-building (no worse, I suppose, than your usual dystopia YA), some totally random rants against religion (what?) in the beginning that seem unrelated to the rest of the book -- and yet the enthusiasm for the random 80's video games and so on is so genuine that I often found myself charmed despite myself. For example, the climactic puzzle of the book is kind of... silly; the way it's presented doesn't make any sense -- but it uses a song that was such an integral part of my geeky childhood that although the absurdity of it totally registered with me, I was still smiling with glee that it had appeared at all. So... the rating here is me trying to assign one number to one aspect I'd rate very high and another I'd rate rather low.

The Fault in Our Stars (Green) - 3+/5 - So apparently there was this whole thing where copies were released early and Green was terrified that people would GET SPOILERS OH NOES. Which strikes me as kind of hilarious, because around a third of the way in I refused to read any further UNTIL I got spoilers. Since I was reading a kindle version, I looked online, but if I had been reading a print book I would have flipped right to the end (and the middle). Anyway. I frequently have this problem with Green's books where I feel slightly, I dunno, detached from the characters, and I felt a little this way about this book too, but I found it much more moving than An Abundance of Katherines. I liked it a lot, although I definitely was glad I'd looked up the spoilers.

Incarnate (Meadows) - 3/5. Eh. I suppose it's not the book's fault, not totally, that its central conceit (a fantasy, or possibly a SF-fantasy-feel, that people get reincarnated and remember their past lives -- although how this is physically possible is not entirely clear to me -- and that there is a romance between an 18-year-old and a 5000-year-old. REALLY. Hey, you just hit my squick issue! (It's rather more the book's fault that the 5000-year-old came across as, maybe, a thirty-year-old at oldest.)

Some books

Sep. 26th, 2012 09:08 pm
cahn: (Default)
...I still do read books sometimes. Really.

The Lion Hunter and The Empty Kingdom (Wein): 3+/5. So obviously these were great books, very readable, and Telemakos is awesome, and AWWWW Telemakos-Athena sibling-partners-in-crime FOREVER is my OTP. Also OH TELEMAKOS, as I figured would happen. ...And what happened at the end? I felt like there was a lot of buildup to... not much at all? Half of it was glaringly obvious from practically the beginning of TEK (what Abreha meant by marking Telemakos), and half of it made no sense and/or was kind of anticlimactic (the whole archipelago subplot, so, it was all for nothing in the end, is that what you're telling me?).

Bad Boy (Myers): 3+/5. The YA author Walter Dean Myers talks about his experience growing up. If you like Myers' other work, you will probably like this too, and if not, probably not. It reads a little disjointedly, with many important parts of his character arc elided or completely absent. However, I'm rounding up instead of down because it did give me a perspective I hadn't had before, and that's worth something to me.

Bathsheba (Smith): 3-/5. Third in a series of the Wives of King David, and the one that was available at my local library. Some of my low rating is personal. For example, I disliked that Abigail died at the beginning of the book, which is obviously personal preference given that my headcanon has taken over my head... but in general I felt that the author shied away from doing anything that would require, oh, engaging with the material and the character interactions. Not recommended, although I understand the author did a lot of research, and you could certainly do worse for what seemed from my quick read like a fairly true-to-the-source-text, if superficial, retelling of what is a cracking good story in the source text.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (): 3+/5. A recommendation from my sister! The writing style and worldbuilding in this one was pretty awesome. It introduced and then sidestepped some of my major squicks, which, points! (However, there was the Love at First Sight thing, which is not a squick of mine, but is something that does turn me off a bit, and I thought the middle was a little slow because of it.) The ending cliffhanger was great. I can see the sequel either going with cliche or not, although given this book I'm hoping for not. We'll see. I'll pick up the sequel and let y'all know ;)
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Guys and Dolls (Damon Runyon): 3+/5. Not much to say about this. If you like Guys and Dolls, the musical, and you like O. Henry, you'll like these stories. I very much like all three. I'd counsel against reading them all at once, like I did, because they do get a little wearisome one right after another (much like O. Henry, which I overdosed on in middle school and have not really gone back to since).

After the Apocalypse (Maureen McHugh): 3- to 3+/5. I dunno. I really, really liked the other collection of McHugh that I read, and this one I just... didn't. I don't know whether I was the one to blame or not; I suspect partially I'm to blame, as I think I read this when I wasn't in the mood for depressing. And, wow, these stories are depressing. And also involving characters who just give up, which I am not, I guess, that interested in reading about.
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Druid's Blood (Friesner), 3+/5 - There is a lot going on on this Sherlock Holmes With Magic! alternate universe pastiche, complete with cameos by almost everyone you can imagine of interest in Victorian England (Arthur Conan Doyle, of course; Lord Byron; Ada Lovelace; Victoria herself). Written before racefail was even dreamt of, so, you know, complete culture!fail where brown people = Kali-who-eats-humans! Yey! I think, though, that from an entertainment standpoint, the big problem is that there's too much going on; there are some nice moments, but it sort of falls under its own weight.

The Hall of the Mountain King (Tarr), 4/5 - Another of those I might feel differently about if I read it for the first time today, but my principal feeling on reading it this time was holy cow how did I not realize that The King of Attolia has the exact same plot? Because the emotional plot is the same: peon that everyone else respects is called to be the reluctant servant to royalty who must prove himself to the world but also forge a beautiful friendship with the peon. Except with more magic and sex and plot and death than in Attolia. (And I really liked Moranden this time through.) And I really like that emotional plot, as it turns out. Although I like Attolia better. But I was pretty excited to reread the next book in the series after rereading this one.

Also, cool that everyone in this book is dark-skinned and it's not really a thing, but it's rather more descriptive about it than the Earthsea books (in the sense of, I didn't actually realize the Earthsea residents were not pale-skinned until the third book or so, whereas I was pretty clear on it in these; the covers helped).

The Lady of Han-Gilen (Tarr), 3/5 - Heroine hair color: red. I really liked this one as a kid, and I don't think it's bad now -- but I'm so over the bratty teenage kid thing and the love triangle thing. I mean, yes, it's nice that she gets called out for being bratty, I can't fault Tarr for her handling of it, I just don't particularly want to read it any more. I also kind of lost my momentum for wanting to read the third book, despite the big plot twist in A Fall of Princes blowing my mind as a naive teenager.
cahn: (Default)
I am getting caught up on my backlog of posts/reading, finally.

Red as Blood (Tanith Lee) - 3 to 5. Reread. The title story is amazing, in my opinion, a tour-de-force of dark lush reimagined-Christian imagery. I'd forgotten exactly how good it was. The other stories range from quite good (I liked the Pied Piper one more than I'd remembered) to a bit silly (I'm sorry, I didn't find "Beauty" entirely convincing).

Going for Infinity: A Literary Journey (Poul Anderson) - 3+ to 4. Some of these stories were rereads. Poul Anderson is totally awesome, really: he's got the hard-science thing going and he also has the Scandinavian-myth thing going as well, and the stories where those things come together are made of awesome. "The Queen of Air and Darkness," complete with an actual ballad and a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, is a fantastic SF story (yeah, with that title and a ballad, were you expecting a fantasy story?), as are "Goat Song" and "Kyrie," all three of which have aged very well (okay, fine, occasionally one would wish for updated gender politics, but otherwise they are all very good). Some of the earlier stories are, well, they don't age nearly as well, but even those have interesting and well-worked-out ideas. The only thing is that his stories almost never viscerally grab me, but it might be impossible to do that with the careful working-out of ideas that is a hallmark of his stories.
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-Why did no-one tell me that the voice of Quasimodo in Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame is Tom Hulce, who played Mozart in Amadeus? Did everyone else know this but me? It's... a weird mental image in my mind, now.

-The Murder at the Vicarage (Agatha Christie) is, I think, not one of the better Christies, but the one thing that made it hilarious to me was that one of the characters is a mysterious "Mrs. Lestrange." I spent the entire book, whenever she showed up, inventing ways to reconcile the character with Bellatrix Lestrange. (Alas, she did not, in fact, turn out to be a sociopath Death Eater. But that would have been awesome!)

-Tangled is a much more entertaining movie if you watch it thinking of a sort-of alternate Eugenides (from the Megan Whalen Turner books) as the main male character. (I know i'm not the first to think this. Still.)

-I was rereading Tam Lin, which I adore (I blame it for leading me to believe everyone in college spouted random Greek and Shakespeare -- turns out, not so much for physics majors), for various nefarious reasons. I think when I first read it, in high school, I might have found the college sex hijinks vaguely titillating. This time around, I was all "OMG ARE YOU PEOPLE SERIOUSLY NOT USING CONDOMS AND USING HERBAL TEA BIRTH CONTROL WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?" Okay, yes, it's set in the 1970's when people didn't worry about HIV, but still! I was rather amused by my change in reaction over the last twenty years (as well as slightly appalled that it wasn't my reaction as a teenager :) )
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A Sudden Wild Magic (Diana Wynne Jones) 3+/5 - Well, DWJ. Therefore, I liked it. I liked this one less than average, though, and wow, the romance was even worse than usual -- and i don't have very high expectations for DWJ romances.

What I Saw and How I Lied (Blundell) - 3/5. Teen after WWII finds all is not as it seems. I have nothing to say about this book, either good or bad.

Hybrid (O'Grady) 3/5. It was like The Passage, only with better medical jargon, and less with the woo-woo vampire mysticism. But the physics was just as bad. Also, maybe it was the Kindle version, but the ending was really abrupt. I mean, not even in the "plotlines didn't get wound up" way, but in the "it feels like this was cut off in the middle of a chapter" way. I'm betting the kindle version is missing a couple of end pages.

The Passage (Cronin) - 3/5. Oh yeah, I read this too, I forgot. Like Hybrid, only with woo-woo vampire mysticism. I really have a very hard time with vampire Ponzi schemes. Has someone explained exponential growth to Cronin? A quick calculation assuming each vampire needs to eat two people/day and the chance is 0.05 that person will become a vampire yields less than 300 days until the entire US is vampires...

Hawk of May (Bradshaw) 3+/5. Arthurian. A book from my childhood, and better than I remember. The first half was quite wonderful, and the second half had some nice surprises but overall lowered the rating. (Okay, in particular, that whole interlude with Lugh was a little... weird.) Also it is nice when your entire plot does not hinge on something that is super obvious if you have ever read any Arthurian stuff ever. However, overall passes my Arthurian test of "Bradshaw knows more about Arthurian mythos and Irish history than I do," though this is admittedly easier to do now than it was ten years ago. I'll definitely be picking up the sequels.

Edited: D points out I CANNOT DO SIMPLE EXPONENTIAL CALCULATIONS, bah. I have changed the numbers accordingly.

two books

Jun. 23rd, 2011 08:20 pm
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Tiassa (Brust) 3+/5 - I really loved the first, oh, 3/4 of this book. And then... whoa, what? I get the feeling this is the first half, or maybe third, of a book that I will really love, but as it was I got the distinct feeling of merrily tripping along and then running face first into a blank wall when the book abruptly ended with only half the plot lines being wound up.

Anyway... part of the book is told by Paarfi, so be aware that if you haven't read the Paarfi books you'll be a bit lost. (And if you haven't read the other Vlad books you will be more than a bit lost; there isn't much recap.) But if you like the Paarfi books, that part is fantastic, of course!

I was reading King of Paris at the same time, next to which this kind of suffers, but up until the ending I was liking it much more than the last couple of Vlad books, and almost as much as some of my favorites.

Nickel Plated (Davis) 3+/5. This book was actually... quite impressive. Think a cross betwen Girl with a Dragon Tattoo (minus the weird middle-aged fabio vibes) and Veronica Mars as a boy -- teen noir, gritty, A plot with a couple of B plots mixed in, with a hero who has a cold black heart with a fluffy marshmellow center -- but minus pretty much all the relationships (the parental figures, the friendships, the angst-ridden love interests -- Nickel has got one of each, but none of the relationships are as deep as Veronica's. Or, to be fair, as angst-ridden, which is a good thing) and that blazing core of integrity Veronica has. (Not that he doesn't have his own kind of integrity, but it's not nearly as fundamental to his character as Veronica's.) Unfortunately for this book, what I loved about VM was the relationships (well, except for the angsty love, bleah) and that flaming integrity. So I didn't like it as much as I kind of felt like I should. But I was drawn into the story.

6-28-11: changed "Paarvati" to the proper "Paarfi" :)
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I think after this I'll be caught up on my reading. For now.

Before I Fall (Oliver) 3/5. YA mainstreamish. I almost typed "dystopia," I'm getting so used to using that word. Anyway. Car accidents and death and life and stuff like that. A bit on the problematic side (in my opinion Izzy Willy-Nilly did a similar kind of theme in a much less mawkish way), but gets points for recognizing the kinds of things that ought to be noticed and by doing it in what is, overall, a non-cliche kind of way. Good teenage read.

Delirium (Oliver) 2/5. It's hard for me to believe that Before I Fall was her first book and Delirium was her second. This is a mass of cliches about True Luv that never, ever even thinks about engaging with what ought to be the central question (that is, not "Is it evil to deny people True Love?" but rather, "Is it evil to deny people choices if it increases their happiness?"). When I start making up speeches for the villains because I think theirs are so poor... you know it's a bad sign.

Across the Universe (Revis) 3/5. YA dystopian-spaceship SF. This gets huuuuuge brownie points from me by being just about the only YA dystopia I've read lately where the characters actually realize that, hey, you know, maybe there are reasons why the oppressive non-freedom-loving rules are there other than "we want to stomp on your face forever, thanks!" I mean, sure, absolute corruption and all that, but I was getting really bored at reading about nothing but absolute corruption. Also props for having the main character not necessarily be Extreme Beacon of Truth and Light Compared to Absolute Corruption.

Enclave (Aguirre) 3/5. I liked this a little more than the other YA dystopias I've been reading lately -- I think partially because the writing seems just a hair better (like, Aguirre doesn't seem completely tone-deaf) and partially because I was reacting to Divergent's silly let's-coopt-SF-so-I-can-sound-gritty-even-though-this-is-really-fantasy -- at least this one engages with its post-apocalyptic landscape, you know? She even tried to put some thought into how it worked, as well as into Deuce herself (who seems to be able to talk about her hunting skills semi-knowledgably). And there's even a character arc for more than one character (reeeeally rare in these things), though it's somewhat brief and truncated. The whole thing did end kind of abruptly, in a way that almost makes me think that she got to the end of the material she'd thought about carefully and so had to wrap everything up.

A Wizard of Mars (Duane) 3+/5 - I thought this held together a lot better than Wizards at War, though without the "10-year reunion!!" feel of the latter. Just as well, I suppose. The emotional arc at the core reminded me a bit of one of the most moving parts of Bujold's Paladin of Souls, which I then had to go back and reread. Of course, the Bujold is better and more adult (neither of which implies the other, of course!), not least because Ista's speech is waaaaay shorter than Nita's, but I still liked the Duane quite a bit. Also, more Dairine, please! (She's clearly gearing up for gettting more screen time in another book or two, but I want it sooner rather than later!) Also, it was somewhat refreshing to find an alien race that behaves worse than humans; I haven't seen one of those in a while, it seems. Anyway, a solid addition to the canon. Not one of my favorites, but not one of the worst either.

Random YA

May. 16th, 2011 08:07 pm
cahn: (Default)
I think I'll start putting ratings, because I've realized I have the lame habit of saying nice things about books I don't like that much and negative things about books I like a lot. Though maybe don't take the ratings too seriously either.

The Enemy (Higson) 3-/5 - Dystopian Zombies. Adults are zombies; the kids must fight against them. Random gratuitous character death (including an entire arc that culminates in a predictable but rather meaningless death). Because, well, zombies. I am pretty well convinced that zombies are Not My Thing.

The Emerald Atlas (Stephens) 3/5 - A nice C.S. Lewis pastiche minus the allegory. The writing is a little better than the dystopian stuff the Kid's been feeding me. The main problem I had with this one is that it took a while to decide what it wanted to be -- first it thought it was Lemony Snicket, then it thought it was Roald Dahl, then it thought it wanted to get more serious and be Lewis or Hobbit-like, and then when time travel was added into the mix I almost put down the book. My sister told me I was almost to the end of the obnoxious part, so I didn't. But be warned, the first 25% of this book is really annoying. For example, there's a hilarious woman in a swan hat who is described in great detail and who never ever shows up in the rest of the book -- has this guy ever heard of Chekhov's gun? It also has the usual flaws endemic to the breed: dwarves who sounds like Scotty; a wise mentor who never explains anything that might be, you know, useful; kids who do stupid things based on incomplete information just to make the book longer, and so on. Still, if "nice C.S. Lewis pastiche minus allegory" is your thing, then go for it. I suppose this book convinced me it was not my thing.

Izzy, Willy-Nilly (Voigt, reread) 4/5 (though bear in mind my extreme partiality to Voigt is skewing this) - not one of my favorite Voigts, but I like pretty much everything she's ever written. Anyway. Teenage Izzy loses her leg in a drunk driver accident, and with any other author I would refuse to read a book of that description because it would be really bad, but Voigt, I think, pulls it off. What I really thought while reading it this time through, though, is how much I wanted for [ profile] lightreads to read it and tell me what she thinks, because although I think Voigt did well in not falling into any "oh woe is me forevah!" or alternately "I am MarySue!Supergirl!" traps, and treating identity/body image in a sensitive and thoughtful way, I am not the best at picking up on this kind of thing.
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There was a dead silence. In fact, the silence was so very dead that Abdullah realized that the sixty ears... [mild spoilers redacted]... anyway, that all these ears were at that moment focused entirely upon what he and Flower-in-the-Night were saying.

"Talk among yourselves!" he shouted.

The silence became uneasy. It was broken by the elderly princess saying, "The most distressing thing about being up here above the clouds is that there is no
weather to make conversation out of." -Castle in the Air

Of course I liked all of these. I've never met a DWJ I didn't like! (Um, well, okay, a couple with squicky large-age-power-disparity relationships, but that just meant I hated the romance, not the writing.)

Enchanted Glass: A nice sweet little book, though nothing special. The thing I like about DWJ is that even when you're old enough you can guess the plot far quicker and easier than when you were little, it's still worth reading.

Castle in the Air: Reread. This book was way more charming than I remembered -- I think part of my previous disappointment was that I was expecting it, well, to be a straight sequel to Howl's Moving Castle. But, of course, DWJ doesn't do straight sequels. Much better to think of it as a book that takes place in the universe of HMC, with some shared characters, as I did this time around, and I really liked it.

House of Many Ways: I liked Castle in the Air better, but this one did have the quality, rare in DWJ books, that there was no extra-powerful character come to save the day in the end. (Think about it. Almost all her books are like this. The Undying, the Chrestomanci, etc. Howl counts in HMC, since from the POV of the main character he's extra-powerful.)
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Finishing up my 2010 posts over the next week or so.

I really liked all these and would have said a lot more about them had I remembered to post about them.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Diaz) - Really a quite remarkable book. Highly recommended. Unfortunately as I read this in half-delirious-sleep-deprivation mode I have forgotten anything I would normally have ranted about. I do remember that Abigail Nussbaum has a a very insightful and brilliant review, even by the rather high standards I expect from her.

In this House of Brede (Rumer Godden) - An odd book I liked quite a lot. Follows a nunnery over the course of several years. If you think reading about nuns, what they feel about their vocation with God, and so on, sounds very interesting, you will probably like this book. (It reminds me a little of L'Engle's adult novels.) If you think reading about nuns sounds like slow torture, you will probably dislike this book quite a bit. I fall in the former category. I got to this from Jo Walton's post at Tor. I've read the other book she talks about and will post about it in another post, since it is 2011 reading.

For the Win (Doctorow) - I'd read short stories by Doctorow and was not particularly impressed. This is my first try at a novel by him, and I quite liked it. Also, it's about gold farming in MMO's -- I mean, seriously, how could you not want to read about that! And he's not afraid to explain things like "what is inflation," which is awesome for a YA novel. It's a little one-note on "The solution is... to unionize!" but for the problem he postulates that is indeed the solution, and I didn't get the sense that he was advocating it strongly for problems for which it's not really the solution.

Also, it is available free, because Doctorow is just so cool that way. I do not understand his business model, however.

The Cardturner (Sachar) - This book is about bridge. I really think Sachar just wanted to write a book where he explained bridge to a YA audience. I loved it, but actually I'm not quite sure whether I should recommend it -- I am not at all the right person to ask, as I rather love bridge myself (though I haven't played in years... it brings back memories of staying up till 3 am in grad school...)

The Dispossessed (LeGuin) - Reread. I actually do have a lot to say about this, and will perhaps make it into its own post. Anyway, I read this in high school, but was blown away by it on this reread. Really very good.
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I blame my sister for the fact that I read these at all! That and running out of other books to read. But no fear, I just ordered Cryoburn!

The Compound (Bodeen) - Hiding out from nuclear war. This book was so full of gigantic plot holes I can't even tell you. A "subtle" comment in the first chapter or so means it is very easy to guess the entire plot of the book, such as it is, though I could not have guessed beforehand that the plot would also depend on a guy who runs a multibillion dollar computer company setting up a local wireless network in his nuclear shelter to connect to the Interweb in his private office that presumably has some sort of hardwired connection, while trying to hide from everyone else who is there the fact that there is a working Interweb. Uh?

I am Number Four (Pitticus Lore) - ahahahaha. Message: If you recycle, your (sentient) planet will give you Awesome Superpowers! No, I'm not making this up, Saving the Planet from Pollution is the reason given why the main character and his compatriots have magic superpowers. (On the other hand, if you pollute, you get to be an extra-super-strong-awesome-if-ugly soldier type who can kick the butt of Superpower!Nonpolluters, so there isn't really a tremendously huge motivation to recycle.) This book was hilariously bad, full of random infodumps, random magic with even more random explanations, blatant audience manipulation, and a three-month-duration-teenage Twu Luv romance. It did have its moments of Teenage Wish Fulfillment (having Awesome Superpowers really comes in handy when confronting the school bully, it turns out), but I do not recommend it.

I am currently working on a monster post on Mockingjay, which it turns out I have a lot to say about.
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So for Christmas (yeah, my family doesn't do delayed gratification; we had Christmas presents in September because we all had things we wanted) I got a kindle 3! It is much nicer than the previous kindle iterations; in particular I and my wrists are quite pleased that the page turn buttons are much easier to turn, and for some of my applications (reading while the baby's eating) it is extremely useful that the page turn buttons are almost silent. It is still basically impossible to do anything other than read sequentially through a book, which is lame.

It is registered to my sister's account so I get to read all the books my sister is dying for me to read. She has been into dystopias lately, hence the following:

Birthmarked (O'Brien) - Message (maybe -- there are a number of hints that the author is gearing up to display a rebuttal in the next book): Life is sacred and we shouldn't be killing babies or telling people who to marry, even if they want to marry siblings! Huh. I liked it better than the Hunger Games books, mostly because there is some indication that the author knows that the dangerously naive main character is, in fact, dangerously naive, and doesn't think this is necessarily a good thing. Or maybe I'm too optimistic? This is the first in a trilogy, and I am suspending judgement until the next book as to whether the above message is really what the author is trying to convey. It also suffers from a bit of first-book clunkiness, but not overly so.

Unwind (Shusterman) - Message: The alternative to being pro-choice is killing 16-year-old kids. Huh. I don't quite know what to say about this book. I found it compelling. I did really like it. The writing is quite a bit more transparent and flowing than Birthmarked, in the sense that I never felt like I had to move past the writing to get immersed in the story. That being said, the premise is pretty much incredibly ridiculous, not to mention anvilicious (there is actually a conversation late in the book as to when life begins. Really!), and almost offensive to me, which really hampered my enjoyment of the book. The most offensive to me is the idea of "storking" -- in this book it is legal to stick your kid on a random doorstep. For some reason, probably because I know what my friends had to go through to get licensed to adopt, this really rubbed me the wrong way. But the book also gets points for an extremely chilling scene near the end. So... I dunno... if you're pro-choice and don't mind being beaten about the head with straw men, you might like it. Otherwise, you still might as long as you ignore the anvilicious bits. Of these three I found it the most compelling and the most inspiring of strong feeling -- even though some of these feelings were negative, I think that shows that he got some things right (otherwise I wouldn't care).

The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Pearson) - Message: Stop giving people antibiotics for stupid reasons! I liked it, and of the three the message is the most muted/least anvilicious. Plus which I actually agree with the point about antibiotics. It also has a fair amount about the role of government, which it treats in a relatively nonjudgemental way. Of the three I found it the least problematic and with the best treatment of the issues it's interested in, although not as compelling a read as Unwind.
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So after two not-very-pleasant months working too much finishing up projects and proposals (very pleasant months from the baby standpoint, though I didn't have enough time with her), I am at loose ends work-wise. (Not out of a job; but job pays by the hour and they have no hours for me.) Which is nice because I can hang out more with the baby and not be so stressed out, and less nice in that we are, maybe not hemorrhaging, but certainly dripping money right now, which kind of bothers me. (We've got savings, and this situation will hopefully not last more than a month or so, so right now the annoyance is not so much practical distress as it is pure mental "I'm not used to this!" -- the last time I spent more than I made in a month was the first month of grad school.)

Anyhow. More time to spend talking about books!

Dragonhaven (McKinley) -- I read this when nursing still took forever and was awful, and before E. could sleep through the night, and from that sleep-deprived state it was hilarious. It seems clear to me that McKinley was thinking, "Hey, I want to write a book about how awful taking care of a newborn baby is! And about having kids! And about watching a kid grow up! But I can't sell that to the YA market... I know! I'll make it about dragons!" Yeah. Oh, my baby didn't burn me when she was feeding (and has been a really good baby in general), but the narrator's half-delirious state was... pretty familiar. I can hardly say whether I recommend this or not, given the circumstances. I just thought it was interesting that she did that. And apparently got away with it.

Poison Study (Snyder) -- The book itself was fine, the usual fantasy fluff, plotwise and characterwise nothing special either good or bad, spunky girl hero, etc. -- but the romance made me beat my head against the wall. I found it both annoying (severe power disparities in relationships give me a headache) and badly written.

The Girl Who ... (Larsson) -- I read the second and third of these. Kind of. That is, at the point where Blomkvist has his second bout of complete middle-aged irresistibility to women, or maybe the third, I started to determinedly skim. I'm not sure I missed much except more product placement (yes, thanks, I really wanted to know Lisbeth had a titanium G4) and more of Blomkvist's sexual conquests. Though as someone who knows a bit of math, it bothered me more that Larsson has some really weird idea of Fermat's Last Theorem. (Briefly, he seems obsessed with x^3 + y^3 = z^3 being the problem, and not x^n + y^n = z^n. I believe the former can be proved pretty easily, though don't ask me to do it.)

I think I know why they are so popular, though. There's some really great villains-getting-their-comeuppance that just feels so very satisfying, the best example being Bjurman in the first book. Although I love this too, I'm not sure I think this is entirely healthy. I think the books I have liked best are ones where the villains don't get their proper comeuppance -- not that they necessarily get off scot-free, but sometimes they don't get satisfyingly punished. Because sometimes it's about other things... like the heroes. Or forgiveness. Or not forgiving, but getting on with life. Or what-have-you. Like life itself.

Next up: YA dystopias on the kindle! (Not Mockingjay, sorry. I'm supposed to get my hands on the copy around Thanksgiving.)
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Um, yeah. I'm still alive, really. So having a kid didn't really slow down the posting, but the going back to work really killed it. I also have been slowing down a lot on the reading, which didn't help the lack of posting.

Here's a six-month pic of the Not-So-Little One, with her typical bemused expression. (Though her head looks slightly larger than in real life.)

Let's see, what have I been up to lately. I just snarfed through Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which was an entertaining fast thriller read though rather disturbing, and also Larsson had this really weird habit of doing product placement for Photoshop and Apple, to the extent that I seriously was starting to wonder whether he got kickbacks from them. Also the part where the main character was irresistible to all women was pretty funny.

I also read the YA White Cat (Black) (thanks [ profile] sarahtales!) which I very much enjoyed for its alt-universe mode of a world where people can perform magic but it's against the law, thus making a Mafia of magic-users, though my sister figured out the entire plot within about two chapters of its beginning, and was subsequently kind of bored. (Still, [ profile] julianyap, I think you'd like it.)

I know there must be other stuff I want to talk about. The problem is that right now the only time I have to post is when I am too exhausted to work (uh, yeah, she wanted to play last night instead of sleep), and there's a pretty high correlation between that and being too exhausted to come up with the things I want to rant on and on about. Well, my big work project is over in two weeks and after that I may be cutting down on my work hours, so we'll see.
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Sherwood Smith kept being recommended to me as something I would like given that I like Megan Whalen Turner, Diana Wynne Jones, and the like. So I got all the books our library had by her (a grand total of two... as I keep remarking, our library is a bit hit-or-miss), which are the two in the title.

Crown Duel was an early book, I think; at least, it feels very much like it. I never really did get into this one. I think part of it is that I need to read the sequel, but still, it never quite... went deeply enough.

A Posse of Princesses was picked up by our babysitter (college freshman) before I got to it, and she really liked it. And, you know, I did too. It's really really cute. It's like... Pride and Prejudice written for teenagers, with magic and princesses. I mean, it's definitely a kid's book, no doubt. But it's adorable, like a kitten, as is the main character, and doesn't pretend to be horribly serious (whereas I kind of got the impression that Crown Duel was supposed to be serious, but it wasn't). Also, kudos for having an important supporting character who is both an airhead and is seriously talented. Because people are really like that!
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In ascending order of interest to me.

The Company (KJ Parker): So I really liked, or at least was terribly fascinated by, Parker's Engineer trilogy. This stand-alone was... ennh. It was vaguely interesting, I guess, but predictable and not particularly twisty (The Engineer trilogy, while the entire arc was perhaps predictable, was definitely twisty, and if it was a bit Rube Goldberg at times, one was still rather interested in how the mouse in the treadmill exactly did connect to the pulley and so on...), and at the climax I rolled my eyes so hard I could very well have sprained something. (I mean, for serious?? At least have your climactic action be not based on a biological urban legend!)

Ender in Exile (Card): No, really, Mr. Card, no one wants to hear you talk about how totally and fantabulously awesome marriage and reproduction is. No one. Not even me, and look, I'm married and reproducing! I'm on your side! But no one likes being lectured at, 'kay? Showing characters who derive great satisfaction from reproducing, yeah, fine. Having each one of them make a cute speech about how important it is for them to be married and reproducing, not so much. No one talks like that! No, not Mormons either, unless they're giving a talk, and not very many of them then either. Okay, now we've got that over with... if you can stand, or skip over, the lectures, it's really not bad, in that compulsively readable way that Card has, although sort of lacking in anything resembling a coherent plot, being more of an Ender and Valentine have Crazy Adventures in Space Christmas Special! sort of thing. And yay we are finally done I think with Achilles. Please?

In the Forests of Serre (McKillip): I love the Riddlemaster trilogy, which I find immensely satisfying. McKillip herself I think is a lovely stylist. Ever since the Riddlemaster trilogy, though, I feel a little as if she's a lovely stylist in search of a story worthy of her talents. This book made me feel rather that way too, though not so much as some of her other work I've read, and I rather do like the magicians. And I very much enjoyed the Russian/Eastern European mythology.
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...Yeah, I have a backlog of posts... these date back from first trimester, in fact. These are sorted by how much I enjoyed them (from most to least):

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (Wilhelm) - I've been on a Wilhelm kick recently. This one started slow but I thought was a strong book, though the science is... um... a little suspect. (I get the impression Wilhelm is not, er, a hard scientist; about three books in a row now I have been rolling my eyes, the worst being in Smart House where she talks about the big million-dollar question in computing being melding digital and analog computing. Er? Granted I believe she wrote it in 1989, but, what?) It's about the end of the world, and clones, and individuality, and honestly rather a Gary Stu type whom I quite enjoyed. I recommend it highly if you can get by the iffy science and treat it as entertainment rather than as A Classic Of Yore (in which case you are sure to be disappointed).

Dreamsongs, vol. 1 - I enjoy George R.R. Martin a lot, though I can't say I actually like his stories, and I realized why after reading this. I don't know about now, but at least for the part of his life these stories cover, he was not exactly successful in love, and these stories reflect that -- maybe half of them weren't about disillusionment and dysfunctional relationships, but a whole lot of them were.

The Host (Meyer) - Oh, yeah. I read this quite a while ago at the behest of the Kid, but forgot to post. It was much, much better than Twilight. I actually enjoyed it, though as usual with Meyer's stuff there was some disturbing relationship/gender subtext.

Fairie Wars (Herbie Brennan) - not to be confused with Sarah Rees Brennan, of course! - I think this is a first book? Anyway, it's got a lot of energy, and there's a lot going on. As usual in fantasy, the "science" is cheesy and stupid, and I have to say the nomenclature of "Fairies of the Light/Fairies of the Night" made me laugh hilariously, but I liked it!

Purple Emperor (Herbie Brennan) - Sequel to Fairie Wars (and, I think, the second in a trilogy). Well. He certainly has the can't-catch-your-breath plot going full speed in this one as well. I'm a little less enamoured of this one, because I noticed more that the plot seemed to crowd out things like, oh, any kind of character development at all. Still, I did finish it.

The Emperor's Children, Claire Messaud - Mainstream. People interact in New York; hilarity ensues, or something. This was, well, better than I thought after reading the first twenty pages, and by the late middle I thought it was quite good. Then the end happened, and I was all, "That's it?" I guess it's pretty good, but being the mean evil person I am, I totally wanted more of the characters to get a satisfying comeuppance. Warning for preponderance of unlikeable characters. (I think I have yet to read a mainstream book set in New York with a preponderance of likeable characters.) Better, go read Edith Wharton instead; Messaud just wants to be Wharton.

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, Alison Goodman- It's of note because the mythology involved is Chinese-oriented rather than Western-oriented, and I feel like I should support non-Western-based fantasy in general. However, the prose seemed a bit clunky to me (it wasn't horrible, just a little too much first-book-ish), and the ending was completely cheesy; I said aloud, "That's it? That's the answer?" Interesting enough that I'll probably pick up the sequel from the library, but probably not enough that I'll more than skim it. I read a couple of good reviews of it, though, so YMMV.


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